[In November our Endras Motorrad Sales Advisor, Adam Hancock, took off on a 12,000 kilometer journey through the United States. Adam has decided to chronicle his journey exclusively for Powershift.]
There are no words to completely describe Death Valley, California. You need to see it to feel it. Death Valley is the land of extremes with record high daytime temperatures and below freezing evening temperatures. It is not just a desert, there are waterfalls, mountains as high as 11,000 feet, spectacular 600 foot high sand dunes and salt flats at 282 feet below sea level. Today I experienced the many difference types of terrain Death Valley has to offer its visitors.
It was 5:30am and the sun was beginning to light up the canyon. Quickly packing up my gear, I headed out on my R1200GS towards Artists Drive. Arriving at the start of the road, the sun had finally made it above the mountain top lighting up the multi-coloured claystone layers and geological formations found on the valley floor along Artists Drive. From start to finish, this was one of the best motorcycling roads I have ever ridden. Very tight canyon curves weaving through large rock formations and perfect pavement! As planned, at this time of the day I was the only vehicle on the road, which made this ride all the more special. It felt like a private tour through Death Valley. This road was too much fun not to ride it at least once more, and that is exactly what I did, at a much faster pace now that I knew how tight the curves were and that there were not any speed traps setup along this 35 mph one way road.
After riding Artists Drive twice, I rode south for 20 miles to Badwater, the lowest point of elevation in the United States. Finding a place to park on the side of the road, I began my hike out onto the vast salt flats of Badwater Basin. My initial thought was to walk out to the middle to take some photos. With the honeycomb shaped salt crunching under my boots, I decided after twenty minutes of walking that this was far enough for my photos as I was still very far from the middle of these salt flats. There were no sounds, not even any wind. It was absolutely still and extremely dry. I knelt down to get a closer look and to touch the salt that made up the ground I was walking on. Once a few photos were taken, I began my walk back towards the road where I would continue my ride northwest to my next stop.
After riding on the two lane highway through Death Valley for some time, I could see the Eureka Dunes rising up from the valley floor in the distance. They were much taller than I had expected. A sign in the parking lot indicated they were 680 feet above the valley floor. Vehicles were not permitted in the dunes, so I ventured out on foot. The sand was deep, soft, and very hot. I sat on the peak of a dune drinking some water and enjoying the warm sun before heading back out on the road where I would be heading towards the Rocky Mountains.
Before I knew it, I had made it out of Death Valley and was headed north towards Yosemite National Park. Snow capped mountains lined highway 395 all the way up to SR120 where I turned west to head into Yosemite. Instead of being greeted with a welcome sign and a twisty mountain pass road, I was faced with a chain hanging across the road holding up a sign reading “Road Closed.” There was a large blanket of snow covering the road. It was now very clear my plans and route would be drastically changed as this was the only road into Yosemite.
I followed the highway a few more miles north before coming across a small gas station. Deciding to top up my fuel tank I asked the attendant what had happened with all the snow. He told me that a large snowstorm had come through the area last night and that another was on it’s way tonight, all of the roads passing through the Rocky Mountains were closed and would remain closed for a few more days until all the snow was removed. The least disruptive path at this point would be to head north to Reno, Nevada and use the interstate to take me into San Francisco.
The highway north to Reno had a sign lit up instructing drivers to watch for snow/ice, carry tire chains, and use caution… and here I am on a motorcycle again with snow filled ditches on either side. Clearly I did not learn from my experiences in Arizona. Reno was 150 miles away, the road was currently dry, the temperature was not below freezing yet, and I had just over two hours of daylight left. With a full tank of gas, I committed to the task at hand and headed towards Reno.
Arriving into Reno just shortly after sunset, bright lights from the many casinos lit up the night sky. Exploring the streets of Reno was interesting, but a lot less inviting compared to the Las Vegas strip. After a brief and violent altercation with an individual attempting to steal my aluminum top case from my bike, I decided not to stay in Reno for the night. Instead I would continue my journey to San Francisco, only another 200 miles using interstate 80.
Mount Tamalpais State Park was my destination tonight, located just north of the Golden Gate Bridge off of Highway 1. Today has been a long day of exploring, overcoming weather conditions and a potentially very dangerous situation in Reno. With the tent setup, thermarest laid down and sleeping bag unrolled it is time for some much needed rest as tomorrow I will be traveling south on the Historic California Coastal Highway #1.